Dealing with grain transportation

Grain transportation is obviously a huge issue for farmers.

That has been the case for decades in reality, and clearly that was brought into much tighter focus in the 2013-14 crop year in the face of the largest crop in the history of the Canadian Prairies.

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The massive crop of course contributed to the extreme bottle neck farmers faced in trying to get grain to market, although the rail companies weren't exactly doing a bang up job in terms of the getting grain moving through the system.

The result was that while there were foreign markets which came calling for product, the system simply couldn't get grain from the farm gate to port position in anywhere near a timely fashion to make all the sales come to fruition.

In the end the situation forced the federal government to implement regulations which set targets for CP and CN in terms of weekly grain movements to deal with the grain congestion backlog.

It helped in terms of moving the glut through the system, although it was far from a perfect solution. Forcing movements based on gross tonnage targets is simply not the best way to meet the intricacies of the grain system.

So it was with some definite interest I read the Grain Millers Harvest Showdown Grains Expo was holding a panel discussion of grain transportation. The panel was made up of people representing various sectors of the grain industry. It was an opportunity to hopefully hear some fresh ideas about how to address the transportation problem long term.

However, the panel focused most of their times trotting out ideas which have been talked about before with little impact.

One speaker spoke of a need for a strong livestock sector, and more processing on the Prairies to divert grain from export, and reliance on rail service.

The hog sector saw high efficiency barns spring up a number of years ago, based on availability of grain, labour and land. It was a common sense idea, but the industry ended up awash in red ink as labour and grain prices climbed. It's not coming back anytime soon.

The feedlot sector fared little better. A facility in Rhein was Business of the Year for the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce one year and out of business a few short years later.

As for processing, that was supposed to come when the old 'Crow Rate' for export grain was dismantled. It didn't happen.

Now the end of the single-desk selling of export grain by the Canadian Wheat Board is supposed to fire processing development. That is yet to be seen, but it is likely to fall short of creating a major dent in grain headed to export any time soon.

And there were other old chestnuts too, but we'll hold those for part two next week.

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